Sunday, October 10, 2010

Laps

New Orleans Athletic Club swimming

Tell me, dear readers, is this not a spectacular place to swim? Even old Caracalla would have to admire the classic natatorium at the New Orleans Athletic Club.

I’ve been swimming there every night lately – a half a mile at least, sometimes a mile or more when I’m feeling all stretched out and relaxed. Crawl, breast stroke, back stroke. Forty yards to the lap, 44 laps to the mile. The pecs, traps, and lats on this geezerly torso are shaping up nicely. The wind is back in my lungs. I’ve dropped two belt notches. And I’ve had moments of blissfully expanded consciousness during longer swims. Nirvana is waiting.

The NOAC pool looks the same as I remember from my first dip there in the early ‘70s. Meanwhile there have been policy and physical plant changes that make the whole experience a little less remarkable. The water used to come from a deep artesian well under Rampart Street and was claimed to have the same consistency of salts and minerals of mid-Atlantic seawater. The ancient Greeks had a word for the thalassatherapeutic effects of brine on the body and mind.  The word escapes me now. But I do recall the pool was very salty, and it felt great.

The club was strictly stag back then and we all swam naked. Now it’s co-ed and bathing suits are required. You can guess which part of club policy I’d like to amend.  Hubba hubba, wouldn’t that fog the goggles?

Even a solitary pursuit like swimming laps is a social exercise in New Orleans. I’ve developed a small circle of pool buddies. There’s a Broadway show producer sojourning here, a U.S. Army intelligence officer, public radio reporter, art dealer, landscape architect and other interesting company. And when I’m completely alone, I find myself communing with the spirits of all the swimmers who have trained in this pool since it opened in 1929 – especially the great Johnny Weissmuller.

Weissmuller swam here whenever he was in town on publicity tours for his Tarzan movies (if you haven’t seen one lately, go right now to Netflix. They’re enormously entertaining and sexy in that pre-Code Hollywood way). It pleases me no end to paddle along in the champion's wake. Some nights when I feel exhausted and ready to stop, I hear someone sweetly popping the speed bag on the mezzanine over the pool.  And I think of Weissmuller, so perfect in physique and character. I push off for another lap, telling myself: "You can do this."         

10 comments:

  1. Johnny Weissmuller used to give my mother's friend's mom swim lessons back in the day. She has long since passed away but in her day she was a model. I thought that was neat. What a nice place to swim. I would like if the crowds were smaill to nil. But I wouldn't swim in the buff ;-)

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  2. Wait, Johnny Weissmuller taught your mom's friend to swim? Am turning chartreuse with envy over here.
    Arthur
    P.S. Congratulations on getting your license. Love that back-rubbing squirrel gif!

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  3. my farther was a member for years and years. he passed away right after the storm.

    it's such a beautiful facility in the city.

    very, very nice blog, btw. :)

    termite

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  4. Thank you, Termite. Like your blog too! Adding to "Kindred Spirits" at right.
    C.S.

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  5. I miss swimming. But I'm a bit self-conscious about my form because I was taught by an aunt & never had formal lessons.
    It looks divine.

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  6. Yeah, that lady had some neat stories to share and swim lessons from JW was one of them.

    Thanks for the congrats although while I passed my test I am still waiting on the state's official okay. I have a job on hold at the moment until I receive my formal certification. Waiting is so hard!

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  7. Don't worry, Red, those shooting stars are gonna come through for you guys.

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  8. I remember the Canal Street Woolworth in the 40s. On Saturday mornings my parents would give me 50¢, I’d catch the bus (7¢) on Franklin Avenue and head to the New Orleans Athletic Club (NOAC) where I had a Juvenile Membership. Mr. Bill ‘Cyclone’ Schriever and Mr. 'Whitey' Schulingkamp would lead us through our exercises then teach us wrestling, boxing, gymnastics, etc. After our various classes we would all go to the cold salt-water pool sans clothes and swim and dive until we were exhausted. After the NOAC we’d have a snack at the Woolworth on Canal and Rampart followed by a movie at the Joy (15¢) on Canal St. or the Joy Strand (10¢) on Carondelet St. I’d take the bus home and still had a few coins in my pocket.

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  9. Arthur,

    Just discovered your blog, via my sister in Toronto. It's one of two about NO that she follows, in fact. At any rate, I've just signed on as a follower.

    --Bill Strickland

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  10. I'd just arrived to New Orleans in Jan. 1978 from boot camp in San Francisco Bay, and wanted to get boxing training. My uncle gave me his decades-old membership card and I used it for the next four years while on active duty, living off-base. Learned how to box against some real brutes, but under the tutelage of Whitey Schulingkamp and his son, Don. I loved Don. Great guy. You boxed an hour, sat in the steam room 30 minutes, then took a cool shower. After that, a few laps in the pool, and you felt like a million bucks all day long! That was my ritual as a 19-23 year old at NOAC. Greatest club ever.

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